On a recent adventure through outback Australia, I stopped overnight at Kulgera.
The pub at the remote outpost, located almost 300 kilometres south of Alice Springs claims to be the most 'central' in the country. Given the 'Lambert Centre', the official geographical centre of the nation is just over 100km to the north-east of the pub, and there's no cold amber fluid within cooee of there, I'm not going to argue with their claim to fame.
While the 'Lambert Centre' is marked with a mini flagpole of similar design to that which flies above Parliament House in Canberra, the entrance to the Kulgera Pub is equally as Australian - a Hills Hoist with dozens of shoes dangling off it.
The genesis of the so-called "Kulgera Shoe Tree" dates to 2007 when 'Blacky', the owner's playful pet dog began pilfering shoes from the adjoining campground.
The owners desperately tried to reunite campers with their shoes. However, due to its isolation most travellers to Kulgera arrive late and leave early and only discover their missing footwear at their next camp, which could be up to1000 kilometres away.
And no one in their right mind is going to backtrack that far for a pair of tatty thongs or old walking boots partially filled with dog slobber now, are they?
At a loss of what to do with the proliferation of shoes, the owners strung them to an old tree.
Within a few months, as the number of shoes grew and grew, it became a tourist attraction.
When the tree collapsed during a storm in 2014, there was a public uproar. Eventually it was replaced, but not with another tree, rather an old clothesline. I guess they are more durable that a tree stump.
During my own fleeting visit to the Kulgera Pub, a well hydrated barfly mockingly asked me if we have anything to rival his town's random display shoes in Canberra.
"Oh, no chance, that place is too sterile" chimed in his equally endearing mate.
Well, we do - the Bobeyan Boot Gate. It's actually about 3 kilometres over our southern border at Shannons Flat, but I didn't tell them that.
If you are driving on the Bobeyan Road, that perennially corrugated excuse for a gravel road that slices through the wilds of Namadgi National Park, connecting Tharwa to Adaminaby, you can't miss it.
Earlier this month, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the 'Bobeyan Boot Gate', I took the yowie mobile for a spin to meet its creator.
"It started when I noticed a new work boot in the middle of the road" recalls Mark Watson, whose entrance to his property, Coolaroo, is marked by the now infamous gate.
"I thought the boot must have fallen off someone's Ute, so I sat it up on the corner post of what we then called the 'bottom gate', hoping they'd see it and collect it on the way back through" he recalls.
When Mark checked the post two weeks later, the boot had been collected, but curiously several other pairs of shoes had been tied to the gate.
Since then, many more shoes have been added, including not one, but two pairs of red stilettos. Intriguingly, most of shoes, despite being subjected to all the elements, and now home to the odd spider or two, are in reasonable condition.
Mark and his wife Annette assert that "we have never removed any shoes but have taken away a few inappropriate items like pairs of skimpy knickers which don't fit into the footwear spirit of the gate".
By far, the most unusual item the couple have found strapped to the wire gate was a prosthetic leg.
"It just turned up one day" explains Mark.
Inexplicably, several years later it vanished.
"Someone obviously needed it" he deadpans.
In the decade since the inception of the "Bobeyan Boot Gate", not once have the Watsons caught anyone tying shoes on the gate, nor have they heard from anyone who has.
"We've got a pretty good bush telegraph out this way and no one has seen anyone stop and tie a shoe on the gate", reveals Marks.
But Mark has identified a clue that may help uncover the culprits.
"Most of the shoes are tied on with cable ties" he explains, adding "that's the sort of thing city folk would use, farmers out here would use wire".
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Not surprisingly the gate has attained folklore status in the Watsons' home with photos of the gate spilling out of photo albums, adorning the fridge, and framed on several walls, including the toilet.
"All our visitors love the boot gate" says Annette, adding, "but none have added to it."
While snapping photos of the gate on my way out of Coolaroo, I plonk my hat on the corner post and inadvertently drive off without it. It's only after I glance on my passenger seat, where it usually takes pride of place when travelling solo that I realise its missing. Lucky, I've only driven five minutes down the road. Phew.
When I tell Mark about the close call, he immediately responds. "It's not footwear but if you leave it behind next time you visit, I'd be more than happy to tie it on the gate for you."
No chance. Next time I venture into the wilds of Shannons Flat, my hat will be glued to my scalp.
Have you tied anything on the Bobeyan Boot Gate? If so, I'd love to hear from you.
Just walk and don't look back?
"Walk somewhere else or get new deodorant" suggests John Smithers of Kaleen in response to my disappointment about the lack friendliness exhibited by fellow walkers around Canberra.
Don't get me wrong, I still receive far more waves and smiles than in other cities around Australia, but I've observed a noticeable and concerning decline of friendliness in Canberra, especially since our populations broke through the 400 000 mark.
I'm not the first to keep a watch on how friendly we are to each other while. Back in the 1980s, while running regularly on Canberra's tracks, Martin Butterfield kept a record of the number of people that spoke/acknowledged him when he crossed them on regular runs.
His observations, which he stresses "weren't formal surveys" indicated that "around 10 per cent spoke to me before I did; 80 per cent responded to my greeting and 10 per cent ignored me." That's a fine success rate, especially when compared to Sydney where his early morning workday run in the 1990s followed a circuit from Hyde Park, through the Rocks and over the Bridge to Luna Park and back. Incredibly, virtually no one initiated a greeting, 10 per cent reciprocated if Martin said hello and 90 per cent ignored him.
Martin also notes that the results changed significantly if he ran in the Tempe/Marrickville area of Sydney from which the saying "I love youse all" made famous by boxer Jeff Fenech originated. In this more working-class area of the city, about 30 per cent of people beat him to a greeting and 70 per cent responded to him. "Perhaps it's a class thing?" he asks.
Perhaps it's also time for Martin to dust down his running shoes and undertake another running survey around Canberra. I suggest in the last 40 years, in terms of unfriendliness, we may have closed the gap with Sydneysiders. In the meantime, I might swap deodorants.
WHERE IN CANBERRA
Cryptic Clue: A difficult prospect
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org The first correct email sent after 10am, Saturday 20 January wins a double pass to Dendy, the Home of Quality Cinema.
Last week's photo of the "mystery" causeway on the Molonglo River (above) baffled many readers. Some thought it was "somewhere near Oaks Estate" or Point Hut Crossing (which is on the Murrumbidgee River, not the Molonglo!) others that it was the old Lennox Crossing now under Lake Burley Griffin. Only a handful of readers nailed it, including Steve Leahy, Maureen Marshall, and Roger Shelton, but the first reader to submit a correct entry after 10am on Saturday was Peter Jeffery of Garran who identified it as the crossing on Molonglo Place, Carwoola near the rear of Headquarters Joint Operations Command.
Last week's exposé on 'Albert the Big Fish' flushed out more information on his whereabouts prior to his current home perched beside a dam at Majura Valley Free Range Eggs.
According to Jean Bennett, after Albert was displayed at 1996 Floriade, he spent some time at the National Zoo and Aquarium. "When the old aquarium was removed, he was then moved to the Belconnen Fresh Food Markets" where he stood for at least 20 years before moving to his new home beside the Majura Parkway last year.
Still no word as to why Albert was so named, although several readers pointed out they hope he has no connection the Hamilton Howard "Albert" Fish, who was a 1920's American mass murderer and cannibal. Let's hope not.
Eric Zurcher of Page believes I was remiss not to include North Watson's Kissing Galahs in my list of Canberra's "Big Things". "They are perhaps less known than some of the others" explains Eric, adding "but who doesn't love a galah? Indeed.
- CONTACT TIM: Email: email@example.com or Twitter: @TimYowie or write c/- The Canberra Times, GPO Box 606, Civic, ACT, 2601